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Arizona basketball: How long will the Wildcats hold on to No. 1?

A celebration is in order. Photo by Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

A celebration is in order. Photo by Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats are, as totally expected, the new No. 1 team in the AP and USA Today college basketball polls, released Monday morning.

Now the question is, how they can they stay there?

“The reason it’s hard is because of the parity,” coach Sean Miller said after Saturday’s home victory over UNLV.

Arizona has been ranked at the top in parts of seven seasons, including just one week in 1997 — the only week that really matters. The coaches poll releases its final rankings after the national championship game.

The longest UA has spent at No. 1 is six consecutive weeks at the start of the 2002-03 season. The Cats were on a five-week stretch at No. 1 late in that season, including the March 10, 2003, poll before losing to UCLA at the Pac-10 tournament.

That was the last time Arizona was No. 1.

All but two of the 65 voters in the AP poll listed the Wildcats at No. 1. The two who didn’t — Mark Berman of the Roanoke (Va.) Times, and Rick Bozich of WDRB-TV in Louisville — opted for Syracuse. Arizona had 30 of 32 coaches votes, with one going to Ohio State and another to Syracuse.

To hold the top spot for a second consecutive week, Arizona will have to win at Michigan on Saturday. The Wolverines, ranked No. 25 in the coaches poll, began the season in the top 10 before suffering a trio of losses — at Iowa State, vs. Charlotte (in Puerto Rico) and at Duke.

Before that showdown in Ann Arbor, though, Arizona plays host to New Mexico State on Wednesday.

“New Mexico State is the next game; it’s the only one that matters,” Miller said. “If you were them, I think you would look at this as a great challenge for your team. I think we have to be ready.”

So, that’s who Arizona (9-0) would have to beat to be ranked No. 1 next Monday for the second week in a row.

Let’s assume that happens. Moving on …

–To be ranked No. 1 on Dec. 23 would require a home win vs. Southern (Dec. 19).

–To be ranked No. 1 on Dec. 30 would require a home win vs. NAU (Dec. 23).

–To be ranked No. 1 on Jan. 6 would require home wins over Washington State (Jan. 2) and Washington (Jan. 4).

–To get to six weeks in a row at No. 1 would mean a pair of wins in Los Angeles, vs. UCLA (Jan. 9) and USC (Jan. 12).

We’re already way ahead of ourselves, but Arizona then plays three consecutive home games, against Arizona State (Jan. 16), Colorado (Jan. 23) and Utah (Jan. 26).

No matter who long the run at No. 1 lasts, the Cats can say they earned it with wins at San Diego State and vs. Duke, showing the kind of balance and maturity of championship-level teams.

“We have to enjoy being No. 1,” Miller said. “I feel like we’ve earned it through our performance. We have something that I think is an honor. I’m happy for our players and great fans.”

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